The Centering for Wisdom Assessment (CWA) is based on a belief that a regular contemplative practice – such as mindfulness, meditation, or contemplative prayer – makes you better at wise and ethical decision-making.

How Did the Centering for Wisdom Assessment Come Into Existence?

The CWA was created by Dr. Tom Bushlack for his students at a small, liberal arts university in the Midwestern United States.  Tom wanted a fun and creative way to help his students learn about how contemplative practices could improve their ability to make good decisions.  As an educator, Tom knew that such a tool could help students learn the material, and it would have practical benefits beyond the classroom and into their future professional and personal lives!

As he built the CWA, Tom brought together two decades of daily contemplative practice with ancient and modern sources of wisdom.  These include:

  • The classical and medieval ethics Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas;
  • The insights from spiritual, religious, and secular contemplative practices and traditions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Himalayan yoga philosophies, and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR);
  • Leadership studies and the work of professional consultants; and
  • Modern scientific studies on meditation from psychology and neuroscience

Each of these traditions recognize that distracting or chaotic thoughts and emotions can lead to making bad decisions.  But developing mindful awareness of one’s thoughts and reactions makes it easier to remain calm and centered.  Good decisions are much easier in that centered space.  The CWA would help people identify where they are most distracted, so they can learn contemplative practices to return to a calm, centered space.

Gazing at a screen is a frequent eyestrain culprit
Young woman spending a relaxing day in her beautiful home

Tom knew the CWA was a brilliant idea!  But did it work?  Did it really provide the kind of feedback that Tom wanted to provide in order to help his students stay centered, make wise decisions, and live a successful life?

Oriel College, Oxford University, UK

Oriel College, Oxford University, UK

That’s when Tom met Dr. Tonia Bock, a colleague at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.  Tonia studies psychological testing and moral development.  They teamed up to do a validation study on the Centering for Wisdom Assessment.

A validation study is a series of statistical tests that provide evidence that an assessment measures what it claims to measure.  This led Tom and Tonia on a five-year journey and a series of tests designed to test, improve, and validate the CWA.  If you really want to geek out on the data, you can view their study that was published in a peer-reviewed journal here. 

One of the highlights of their work together was their journey to Oxford University.  They were invited to present the results of their study at an international conference hosted by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue in 2017.

Tom was particularly excited to enjoy fish and chips over a pint at the Eagle and Child, a pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings used to gather to discuss literature – pinkies up!

For those of you who don’t talk about R-Values and P-Values over your morning coffee (it’s OK, you don’t need to know this!), here are some highlights from those studies:

  • Lower scores on the CWA mean that you are more likely to remain centered or calm when you encounter stressful or distracting situations (or people) in daily life
  • Lower CWA scores mean you have developed a higher amount of mindfulness, or self-awareness
  • Lower CWA scores mean that you are wise, or that you have the ability to make good decisions
  • Lower CWA scores mean you are less likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression 


Less Anxiety


Less Stress


Less Depression

Centering for Wisdom is all about learning how to notice your reactions to distractions or stress, so that you can learn to stay calm and centered.  Remaining centered makes it easier for you to respond – rather than react – to life.  You can act in alignment with your most important values and be a positive leader for others. 

At the end of their study, Tom and Tonia realized they had discovered something much more than a tool for the classroom.  The CWA could be a powerful tool for self-knowledge, stress reduction, personal discovery and growth, leadership development, and for improving decision-making.  It is useful in traditional classroom contexts, leadership coaching, professional development seminars and workshops, spiritual direction, and other situations.  It is particularly helpful if you have to make important decisions that will impact the success and bottom line of your company, non-profit, team, or other organization. 

That is why we’ve created the online version of the CWA and all the resources available here to support your growth as a calm, wise, and centered leader! 

The final words from Tom and Tonia’s study provide a hopeful vision for how Centering for Wisdom can support wise and ethical leadership into the future:

In a world desperately in need of wise leadership and decision-making that benefit all people and the common good—including our planet and natural environment—we hope that the CWA can make a small contribution to enhancing this virtue of contemplative practical wisdom.

(Bushlack and Bock 2018)

Dr. Thomas J. Bushlack holds a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from the University of Notre Dame, and serves as Regional Director of Mission Integration with SSM Health, a faith-based healthcare provider located in four states with over 40,000 employees. Tom works with employees to improve alignment with corporate mission, ethics, and values. He also helps physicians, healthcare providers, and executives deepen mindfulness and meditation practices to reduce stress, prevent burnout, and improve decision-making skills.

Tom spent ten years as a university professor of Theology and Ethics. He was a founding co-director of the Project for Mindfulness & Contemplation at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), served as co-director of the Ashley-O’Rourke Center for Health Ministry Leadership at the Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis, MO), and serves as a Trustee for the Trust for the Meditation Process. He is a commissioned presenter of Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., and is an Oblate of St. John’s Abbey. He is currently pursuing commissioning in the 12-step Centering Prayer tradition. He lives in St. Louis, MO, with his wife and three children. 


Dr. Tonia Bock is Associate Vice Provost for Accreditation, Assessment, and Curriculum at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. She has an M.A. in Educational Policy and Administration and a Ph.D. in Psychology, specializing in educational and developmental psychology. She has been a professor in the Psychology Department since 2004. Dr. Bock has taught a range of undergraduate psychology courses, including Psychological Testing and several developmental courses. She publishes and presents studies in both moral development and psychological assessment.

Stay Calm & Centered

CWA is a powerful tool for self-knowledge, stress reduction, personal discovery and growth, leadership development, and for improving decision-making.